I am going to make a complaint. This is a complaint directed to many of you, but by no means all, so bear with me. I know I am not the only blog-writer who feels this way, so I it seems a good moment to register my annoyance. So what has got my beef?
I know you are reading my posts. I see interesting comments circulating, but not on the post itself. I am not on Facebook so I have no idea what happens there, but I do know that on Twitter people often tweet brief remarks, or links to related articles, that it would be great if other people had the opportunity to share. By keeping their remarks in the Twittersphere it is impossible for many other readers to react to the comments and/or to join in the discussion. By its very nature Twitter is ephemeral: here today and gone – certainly by tomorrow and probably sooner. To give a very recent example, when I wrote something about emergence (see here) some people tweeted good links to easily accessible papers or articles. I am sure many people would have appreciated knowing about them in a quasi-permanent way, not simply because they happened to have their Twitter-feed open at the appropriate moment. Or, referring to the same post, maybe there were other authors whose work confirms or contradicts my position – it would have been great to have added them in. As it was, I was delighted to find philosophers taking a lead in this debate by actually posting comments.
Please take note, as there are many other examples I could cite. That is just one recent case in point.
Even in the relatively short time I have been blogging (actually it’s no longer that short, it’s 3/12 years, but I still feel I’ve only just got going), it would seem the comment stream has significantly dried up. Occasionally I get a lot, but nothing has beaten two relatively early posts about the EPSRC and about Impostor Syndrome. Those two posts undoubtedly got people’s commenting juices going. I wonder if they still would. Perhaps it was down to the specific topics, but I think it is also the case that there is a shift in modus operandi of commentators.
The issue of commenting on blogs was also discussed in the session. For most blogs, comments are dead and any conversation is now based around is now retweets and reposts to social media sites rather than a threaded stream on the original site. The same is also true of online commenting on scientific papers – on the PLOS and Nature websites for example. There is plenty of discussion going on about the content, but it is distributed across many networks rather than being focussed into an easily accessible thread. In spite of a relaxed attitude to this by some, in my opinion this is a problem as it encourages superficial commenting at the expense of more in depth conversation. Sharing on Facebook is a good thing but it is not a substitute for a good discussion thread on a thorny issue. In science in particular, putting your head above the parapet and being seen to criticise the work of senior scientists is still a risky business, even when such comments are made in neutral tones and intended as a positive contribution to ongoing work.
Now I am by and large not going to get upset if a junior scientist doesn’t agree with me (see this earlier post where I reflect on this in a different context), so I hope that is not why people are not writing comments. But I totally agree with Alan Cann that the loss of in-depth dialogue is a shame.
There is another issue when people use Twitter to post comments. Very often they will begin the comment by addressing it to me as @athenedonald. If you do that with no prefix, the only people who will see it will be myself and anyone who happens to follow both me and who is tweeting. Very often I am pretty convinced that is not their intention, but that is the effect, thereby narrowing the range of people who will be party to the tweet to a tiny number. If the tweet is meant to be for general consumption, my twitterhandle has to have something in front of it. Personally I use a full-stop, others use quotes. If there is nothing, the tweet is in essence barely in the public domain.
So, my friends and readers, if you are trying to have a general conversation, can I please urge you to post your comment explicitly on my post. If you really do mean to have a quiet word with me, of course sending me a tweet personally is absolutely fine. But be sure you know that what you’re doing is what you think you’re doing.